Country information for France - Systems of support and specialist provision

Transforming special education

France is in the process of transforming from a system of special education to a system of inclusive education.

The field of special education is itself divided into two parts:

  • a number of medical-social (health and welfare) institutions made up of private, non‑profit establishments under the authority of the state (Ministry of Social Affairs) and funded by public money from the social security (national health insurance) system;
  • special classes and schools in the public education system, under the authority of the Ministry of National Education (which have developed since 1909).

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), which France ratified in 2010, will speed up the process of transformation from a model of integration to a model of inclusive education. (Source: CPRA – France Country Report, p. 3)

Children with disabilities who are not enrolled in mainstream schools may be accepted full‑time or part-time at a medical-social centre while continuing their schooling.

Law 2005-102 strengthened the framework of this schooling in a specialised environment by developing strong ties to schooling in a mainstream setting. It did this by setting up teaching units within social and medical-social facilities (ESMS).

Decree no. 2005-1752 of 30 December 2005 and the Decree of 2 April 2009 (related to the creation of teaching units) provide for keeping learners with disabilities enrolled in national education establishments (reference schools). Their schooling may take place:

  • in a teaching unit (unité d’enseignement, UE) within a medical-social centre;
  • part-time in a UE and part-time in a reference school, or part-time in a UE and part‑time in a school located nearby with which the medical-social centre has an agreement;
  • in an externalised teaching unit (unité d’enseignement externalisée, UEE) located in a mainstream school, collège or lycée.

Instruction no. DGCS/3B/2016/207 of 23 June 2016 (p. 252) established terms of reference for UEEs in social and medical-social facilities (ESMS). It fostered externalisation dynamics in line with the inclusive education paradigm. Learners enrolled in UEEs can benefit from inclusive schooling within a mainstream class in the school. Some UEEs are specifically intended for learners with autism spectrum disorder. Most are located in nursery schools (i.e. in maternelle where all French children aged 3 to 6 are enrolled) and they are developing in primary schools.

Current provision


  • At the national level: Inclusive Education Office of the General Directorate for School Education (Ministry of National Education)
  • At the regional and académie level: the technical advisor of the rector for School Adaptation and Schooling of Learners with Disabilities (ASH) at the académie
  • At the département level: the technical advisor of the Academic Director of National Education Services (DASEN). The technical advisor is an inspector for National Education in charge of ASH whose duties were redefined by Circular No. 2010-135 of 6 September 2010
  • At the local level: the reference school teacher (ERS), whose areas of intervention are defined by the Bylaw of 17 August 2006.

In France, there is no dedicated term for the population in need of specific measures adapted to their special educational needs. There is no expression in use that signifies that learners with special schooling and educational needs require particular care and monitoring distinct from the mainstream education system.

The education of learners with serious difficulties, either through disability or illness, is based on an infrastructure that has slowly grown into a very extensive network. In 2018–2019, approximately 80,000 learners were identified as enrolled in medical-social or health establishments (71,800 in medical-social centres and 8,200 in health centres). Of these, 9,800 learners benefit from shared schooling (i.e. part-time in their medical-social or health establishment and part-time in a mainstream school).

In 2006, 33% of all learners with disabilities were enrolled in medical-social or health establishments. In 2013 the figure was 25% and in 2018 it was less than 20% (Repères et références statistiques sur les enseignements, la formation et la recherche 2019, section 1.6, pp. 20–21). Thus, although the number of learners depending on medical-social and health establishments remains stable, the proportion is decreasing. Segregation is also decreasing, while school inclusion is increasing. As proof, learners enrolled in UEEs are recorded among the 80,000 learners enrolled in medical-social or health establishments, yet their schooling takes place within mainstream educational settings. This enables them to benefit from inclusive schooling time in mainstream classes.

The public education sector

This sector of adapted schooling comprises the infrastructures and facilities provided by the Ministry of Education. They were created with the first special classes for children with intellectual disabilities in 1909. The sector evolved following the school integration policy laid down in framework Law No. 75-534 (30 June 1975) in favour of people with disabilities and was reinforced by framework Law No. 89-486 (10 July 1989) on education.

The actions in favour of schooling of learners with disabilities undertaken by the Ministry of Education were reinforced by the Law of 11 February 2005 on the equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of people with disabilities. This law asserts the right of learners with disabilities to education and the responsibility of the education system to guarantee the continuity of individual school careers. This law, which took effect on 1 January 2006, establishes the obligation to:

  • provide the learner, whenever possible, with mainstream school access as close as possible to their home;
  • closely involve parents in the decision-making process of orienting their child and in all phases of defining the child’s individual education plan (PPS);
  • guarantee the continuity of the school career, adapted to the learner’s capacities and needs;
  • guarantee equality of opportunities for candidates with disabilities and other candidates, by ensuring a legal basis for the adjustment of examination conditions.

Learners’ schooling mainly takes place in a mainstream educational environment. It can be supplemented by the specialist team with specialised education and home-care service (SESSAD). The SESSAD can combine access to care and the right to schooling within the school environment, from primary to secondary level.

1. Individual schooling at primary and secondary levels

This consists of enrolling one or more learners with disabilities in a mainstream class. Individual schooling is the primary goal at all levels. Regardless of whether it is implemented on a part-time or full-time basis, hosting conditions must be adapted within the framework of the PPS.

A multi-disciplinary team develops the PPS based on the information gathered during the assessment, particularly from the educational team or the schooling monitoring team. Once the development phase is completed, the plan is submitted to the Commission on the Rights and Autonomy of People with Disabilities (CDAPH). The PPS is an aspect of the personalised compensation plan (PPC). The PPS ‘proposes methods for educational pursuit co-ordinated with measures to support it shown in the compensation plan’ (Article L 112-2 of the Education Code). It ‘defines how the schooling takes place, along with pedagogical, psychological, educational, social, medical, and paramedical actions to meet the special needs of learners with disabilities’ (Article D 351-5 of the Education Code).

The PPS provides the framework for the schooling of a learner with disabilities. It ensures the coherence and quality of support measures and necessary assistance based on an overall assessment of the situation and the learner’s needs: therapeutic or re-educational support, assignment of a support assistant or appropriate teaching materials, assistance to the teaching team via a school assistance position, etc.

Each school career should be closely monitored, especially during the transitional phases between education levels: nursery school, primary school, collège, lycée and vocational training school. The same applies for baccalaureate access and preparation for higher education.

All learners with disabilities are assigned a reference teacher who follows their progress throughout their school career. All of those involved in the education process (parents, teachers, various other partners) must be able to clearly identify the reference teacher and be able to contact them.

Learners can be accompanied by an individual or mutualised support assistant, which is one of the CDAPH compensation tools. Circular no. 2017-084 of 5 May 2017 specified the assignments and activities of staff in charge of providing human assistance to learners with disabilities.

2. Group schooling

2.1 Primary level: Local Units for Educational Inclusion (ULIS)

Since 1 September 2015, the schemes aimed at school inclusion for learners with disabilities are all called ‘Local Units for Educational Inclusion’ (ULIS). They aim to:

  • support the continuity of the school careers of learners with disabilities;
  • reinforce the inclusion of learners with disabilities within mainstream classes;
  • accompany learners with disabilities toward better employability.

ULIS for primary schools are distinguished from ULIS for collège and lycée (secondary school).

In theory, the number of learners in a ULIS is limited to 12 in primary school and 10 in secondary school. Modulations are possible depending on the learners’ degree of autonomy.

Each ULIS has a co-ordinator. A special education teacher carries out the tasks. A collective support assistant is assigned to the ULIS, but individual human support during the entire schooling period is possible.

The learners directed to ULIS require adapted teaching within the framework of re-groupings in addition to teaching installations, adaptations and compensation measures made by the education teams. The ULIS allows them to continue in inclusive education adapted to their potentialities and their needs, even when their acquired knowledge and skills are very limited.

Only the CDAPH are qualified to propose a learner to a ULIS, provided that the learner’s legal guardians agree.

ULIS can be based on seven types of disorders:

  • TFC: cognitive or intellectual function disorders
  • TSLA: specific language and learning disorders
  • TSA: autism spectrum disorders
  • TFM: motor function disorders (including dyspraxia)
  • TFA: hearing disorders
  • TFV: visual disorders
  • TMA: multiple associated disorders (multiple disability or invalidating disease).

Learners with different types of disorders can be schooled in a similar ULIS. Each ULIS accepts learners and takes account of their needs and learning objectives, without aiming at absolute homogeneity. ULIS are not distinct from other classes: they are an arrangement, which occasionally join with other learners, according to their needs.

ULIS are organised by the school principal in primary school, and the head of the establishment in secondary school (principal, head teacher).

Learners attending a ULIS are fully-fledged pupils of the school establishment. Their reference class is the class or division roughly corresponding to their age group. These learners must take part in all the activities organised for all the learners, without exception, and particularly in the extra-curricular activities.

A ULIS co-ordinator has three main missions:

  • teaching during times of re-grouping the learners within the ULIS;
  • co-ordination of the ULIS and relations with partners;
  • advising the educational community – especially non-specialised teachers – in their capacity as resource people.

2.2 Secondary level

Local Units for Educational Inclusion (ULIS)

Learners’ entry into a secondary school ULIS entails the development of an individual education plan (PPS), integrating a personalised orientation plan (PPO) and ensuring the coherence of the various support schemes based on an overall assessment of the learner’s needs (therapeutic or re-educational support, etc.).

Three situations can arise:

  1. ULIS in collège:
  • learners hold an individual skills booklet (LPC) in reference to the common base of knowledge and skills (SCCC);
  • learners can take tests for the national Brevet school certificate and the general education certificate;
  • learners enter the introductory course for trades and training, with adjustments.
  1. ULIS in lycée and vocational schools:
  • learners are supported to prepare their entry into higher education;
  • at the appropriate time, learners are placed in contact with the higher education ‘disability’ reference person.
  1. ULIS in vocational schools:
  • learners have access to the vocational training provided in their lycée or in the lycées and schools that are part of the network;
  • assistant teachers organise the connection with the Cap emploi (a network of agencies that help people with disabilities to find work), the apprentice training centres (CFA), and other establishments offering technical education, in view of setting up internships for their future employability;
  • the LPC continues to be filled out. A certificate of skills is issued to each learner upon leaving the ULIS.

All learners with disabilities can be directed, if the CDAPH offers this measure, to an establishment section or a national education establishment offering adapted general and vocational education.

Adapted General Education and Vocational Sections (SEGPA) and regional adapted teaching establishments (EREA)

Adapted general and vocational education is provided to learners with so-called ‘serious and persistent’ school problems. Circular 2009-060 of 24 April 2009 specifies the teaching orientations of this adapted education. Circular 2015-176 of 28 October 2015 reaffirms the principle of inclusion of SEGPA learners in the whole of the collège, and facilitates re‑orientations at the end of the first year.

Adapted general and vocational education is offered in two structures:

  • adapted general and vocational education sections (SEGPA), which follow up on the specialised education sections (ITS) established by Circular No. IV-67-530 of 27 December 1967. Integrated into mainstream collèges, these sections were redefined to clearly reinforce the teaching contents. This allowed access to a curriculum leading to a certificate of professional capacities (CAP), the first professional diploma recognised in collective agreements and on the labour market. For most learners, this qualifying education takes place in a mainstream training establishment (usually a vocational school or apprentice training centre).
  • regional adapted teaching establishments (EREA). Generally offering boarding facilities, the majority of EREAs take in learners with major school and social difficulties. Some establishments, however, receive young people with sensory or motor disabilities who can follow secondary-level general education.

The département commission of orientation to adapted learning (CDOEA) examines the situation of learners who are collège age (at least 12) with serious learning difficulties. The CDOEA can direct learners, subject to their parents’ agreement, to a collège with adapted general education and vocational section (SEGPA) or to a regional adapted teaching establishment (EREA). Not all learners enrolled in a SEGPA or EREA have disabilities, but learners with disabilities can be schooled, full-time or part-time, in a SEGPA or EREA (as in any other collège or lycée class, if it proves to be beneficial). Some EREAs mainly have learners with disabilities (in particular, learners with visual, hearing or motor disabilities).

Pedagogical organisation principles specific to the adapted teaching sector are a form of personalised schooling for learners. This is a process of dynamic teaching that depends on the learners’ particular characteristics, with follow-up, assessment and validation of each schooling route. In SEGPAs, thanks to a specific pedagogical organisation within the collège, the aim is to prepare learners to gain access to vocational training.

The adaptation of the teaching, under the above-mentioned legal texts, includes adjustments to the environment, the teaching materials and the pace of teaching, as well as adjustment of the pedagogical steps and didactic approaches.

3. Prevention, treatment and home-care services

Specialised education and home-care services (SESSADs), regulated by each section of Appendix XXIV of modified Decree No. 56-284 (9 March 1956), are generally attached to the medical-educational establishments and target the same population as the latter. Their activities address the learner’s entire environment, namely the family and in particular the school environment, in order to guide the schooling experience. In January 2020, there were 1,741 SESSADs and this number has been increasing for over 20 years.

Medical-psychological-pedagogic centres (CMPP), regulated by Decree No. 56-284 (9 March 1956), added to Decree No. 63-146 (18 February 1963), ensure diagnosis and treatment of children with neuro-psychic or behavioural disorders. There were 470 CMPPs in January 2020.

Preventive medical-social action centres (CAMSPs), regulated by Appendix XXIV bis of Decree No. 56-284 (9 March 1956), added to Decree No. 76-389 (15 April 1976), handle testing, day therapy and re-education of learners with disabilities from birth to age six. There were 345 CAMSPs in January 2020.

The number of places in medical-social establishments and services for learners with disabilities evolved between 2006 and 2020. There was a clear increase in places in services that assist school inclusion, and a small reduction in places in specialised establishments.

In 2014, there were:

  • 47,785 places in medical-educational institutes (IMEs) (29,235 in 2006);
  • 7,597 in establishments for young people with a sensory disability (8,623 in 2006);
  • 7,121 places in motor-education establishments;
  • 14,960 places in therapeutic, educational and pedagogical institutes (ITEPs);
  • 5,585 places in establishments for young people with multiple disabilities.

The medical-educational sector

When attendance in the mainstream school environment is not possible, learners with disabilities (generally between the ages of 6 and 20) are directed to medical-social facilities. These offer balanced schooling, educational and therapeutic care. The nomenclature of the medical-educational establishments and services, as well as their establishment, is available on the Ministry of Health website.

These facilities are generally organised around a particular disability:

  • Medical-educational institutes (IMEs) are regulated by Decree No. 56-284 (9 March 1956), modified by Decree No. 89-798 (27 October 1989). They include the former medical-pedagogic institutes (IMPs) and the medical-vocational institutes (IMPROs), which became orientation and initial vocational training departments (SIFPRO). IMEs form the vast majority of specialised educational facilities. They take in learners with intellectual disabilities. There were 1,269 IMEs in January 2020.
  • Therapeutic, educational and pedagogical institutes (ITEPs, formerly institutes for re-education), regulated by Decree No. 2005-11 of 6 January 2005. These institutes replace institutes for re-education for learners with psychological difficulties which seriously impede their socialisation and access to training and/or apprenticeship. The Decrees lay out the duties of these institutes in detail, their organisation and operation, as well as the composition of their multi-disciplinary teams. There were 455 ITEPs in January 2020.
  • Establishments for learners with motor disabilities, regulated by Appendix XXIV bis of Decree No. 56-284 (9 March 1956), modified by Decree No. 89-798 (27 October 1989), are divided into motor education institutes (IEMs: 143) and re‑education institutes.
  • 194 establishments for learners with multiple disabilities are regulated by Appendix XXIV ter of Decree No. 56-284 (9 March 1956), modified by Decree No. 89-798 (27 October 1989).
  • 69 establishments for learners with a serious hearing disability are regulated by Appendix XXIV quater of Decree No. 56-284 (9 March 1956), modified by Decree No. 88-423 (22 April 1988).
  • Establishments for learners with serious visual disabilities or suffering from blindness are regulated by Appendix XXIV of Decree No. 56-284 (9 March 1956), modified by Decree No. 88-423 (22 April 1988). In 2020 there are 28 establishments, plus 19 establishments for learners with both a visual disability and a hearing disability.

1. Health sector and the schooling of learners suffering from health disorders or who are hospitalised

1.1 Organisation of the plan of individualised admission of learners with health disorders

If a learners disease or invalidating disability or health disorder does not require a PPS, a plan of individualised admission (PAI) is worked out by the head of the establishment, in co‑operation with a national education physician and the learner’s family. Aside from the arrangements in the PAI, the learner’s schooling continues as usual.

The PAI applies to children with specific needs (reported disease, chronic pathology, dyslexia, etc.). It consists of a protocol drawn up by the parents, the school (head of establishment, physician, welfare officer, psychological orientation adviser, education team, teacher, main education adviser, nurse, etc.) and external partners, to allow admission to a collège, lycée or primary school for learners suffering from a temporary disability or disease.

The PAI is signed by the different partners involved. An emergency protocol can be drawn up and circulated to the school community. On the basis of a PAI, an additional third of time can be granted for exams at the learner’s request, if they are of age, or at their parents’ request, subject to the agreement of the appropriate medical authorities.

Valid for one school year, the PAI is circulated within the educational community and to all the partners involved.

1.2 Schooling of hospitalised learners

If a learner’s health does not allow them to attend school, teaching can be provided to them under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education within the structures of the medical sector.

Article D.351-17 of the Education Code offers the possibility of setting up a teaching unit in a health establishment to ensure the schooling and the continuity of training courses for learners with an invalidating health disorder that requires a stay in such an establishment.

The teaching unit’s teachers work out the educational plan based on the learners’ schooling needs, according to each of their schooling plans.

When a health establishment admits learners, the educational plan pays particular attention to the care plan.

2. Medical sector specialised establishments and services

Health establishments admit sick learners. Health establishments and children’s health centres (MECSan) are publicly- or privately-owned establishments that are supervised by the Ministry of Health. Admission is based on medical prescription. The health sector organises the admission of children who are sick or suffering from health disorders. Schooling in mainstream structures is preferred. Each establishment is usually specialised in the treatment of a type of mental or physical pathology.

There are the following distinct services:

  • Paediatric hospital wards
  • Day hospitals that cover the care and education of patients who remain in their usual living environment
  • MECSan, for learners who require constant medical attention as boarders.

Very young children, who are not subject to compulsory education, can be admitted to a nursery that offers medical services if their health requires this.

There are other health establishments which learners can attend, usually while they remain a pupil of a school establishment. These include medical-psychological centres (CMPs) and part-time therapeutic centres (CATTPs). These services are part of the child psychiatry cross‑sector.

Home schooling assistance services (SAPAD)

Home schooling is for any learner whose schooling is stopped or interrupted for medical reasons for a period exceeding two consecutive weeks. This schooling takes into account the requirements of the learner’s medical treatment and their state of health. It aims to maintain continuity of the provided teaching and a link with the school usually attended by the learner, in order to prepare their smooth return to class.

At the département level, a steering committee, chaired by the academy inspector, defines the missions of the service and the agreements allowing its operation. The committee oversees and ensures follow-up of the actions implemented. A network of volunteer teachers are remunerated and their travel expenses are covered. The co‑ordinator is usually a specialised teacher.

A medical certificate from the child’s attending practitioner specifies whether the child’s health requires a SAPAD intervention. In this case, on decision of the proper authority, home schooling assistance is ensured, as the case may be, by the learner’s usual teacher or teachers.

Distance learning

The National Centre for Distance Learning (CNED) is a public institution that proposes school and vocational curricula for all learners who are unable to physically attend an educational establishment. The centre proposes school curricula adapted to part-time learning. Learners can register at any time of the year. Home-learning assistance by a CNED-employed teacher is part of the offer.

In 1997, a disability platform was set up in the centre of Toulouse to provide adapted solutions for learners whose disability or illness prevents them from attending mainstream school facilities.


Last updated 28/04/2020


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